Jesus was on an urgent mission. In Mark 1:38, Jesus expressed this urgency, “Let us go… to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” Preaching the Good News was why Jesus went from village to village. Not only did he preach the Good News, he was the Good News. As Jesus preached, he was telling people about himself, the Messiah who had been sent to save us from our sin in accordance with the plan of God from before the world was created. With such limited time to preach (about three years) and so many people to reach, we might think that the poor and the sick were a distraction or diversion from Jesus’ real mission of preaching. Why would Jesus take time to heal so many when his time was so precious and the spiritual need of the people was so great? In fact, Mark doesn’t even let us know if the people that Jesus healed were also spiritually made alive.
Have you ever heard a well-intentioned Christian tell someone who had just lost a loved one something like this? “Your loved one is now better off and this is God’s plan.” Although there is truth in what was said, the person who tried to give comfort seemed to be saying that since the person was a Christian, everything else really didn’t matter. But is that how Jesus cared for the people of his day? Did Jesus care only about the spiritual life of people or did he care for all of their needs: spiritual, emotional, mental and physical? In the Gospels, the answer is very clear. Jesus cared enough about the physical, mental and emotional needs of people that he always addressed those needs as he ministered the gospel.
I have always found it interesting that in Matthew 25:31-46, when Jesus distinguishes between the goats and the sheep, he considers physical acts of mercy such as giving someone food and drink, being kind to a stranger, clothing someone and visiting the sick and those in prison. These are marks of the sheep. Why doesn’t Jesus use the preaching of the gospel as the measure by which the goats and sheep are separated? After all, isn’t telling the good news the primary mission of the Church? What is the connection between these physical acts of mercy and the heart of Christianity?
All physical acts of mercy have this in common: They cost us something. They involve us in sharing the burdens that other carry. Perhaps as we help carry the burden of others, we give them the rest they need to hear the Good News and the hope to think it could be true.
As we look around us at the burdens others are carrying, may the words of Paul the Apostle spur us on to do good works, those acts of mercy by which the gospel message becomes clearer to our world. “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).
Roy Heggland serves the CLB as Associate for Biblical Stewardship.